Hitler’s Killer Rocket: Behind the Scenes

What a powerful episode this was. One can’t help but be impressed by what the Nazis achieved technically with the V2 rocket – the first man made object in space . . . and one cant deny the horror the Nazis employed at Mittelbau Dora to produce the V2.

The airborne LiDAR data was some of the most interesting I have seen. Did you see all of the bomb craters? Thousands of them. Having been out in the woods and seen them –  some were 40 feet across and 15 feet deep! As Peenemunde was the Nazi’s Los Alamos the RAF went after it without remorse.

The power plant at Peenemunde

The huge power plant at Pennemunde was untouched by the RAF during the bombing raids there. One would think it was an obvious target. Take out the power plant and production of the liquid oxygen fuel for the V2 stops.

As I was walking around the facility, which is a very interesting museum today, a kiosk caught my eye. It explained that the enormous structure in front of me was, in effect, a scrubber – a system that made emissions effectively invisible. Typically, even today, coal fired power plants spew all kinds of filth into the air. 80 years ago this plant burned so clean that RAF reconnaissance determined that the plant was not operating so they let it be. Amazing!

The control panel at the Peenemunde power plant (National Geographic/Martin Kemp)

There was a Spinal Tap moment in the power plant.  While we were rolling Marty and I were playing with dials and knobs at the power plant’s control panel.  I spotted a knob which went from zero to forty.  I turned it and it stopped at eleven.  In my best Nigel Tufnel British accent, I said, “This one goes to eleven.”  It didn’t make the show but we all had a good laugh!

Colin (L) and Sean (R) Welsh . . . and my piece of V2.  Thank you so much gentleman.

The Welsh brothers were passionate V2 aficionados who really knew their stuff.  They were absolutely serious about the dig, their work, and protocols for digging it up . . . until, at lunch, Sean, produced several beers which I thought was brilliant.  Then he nudged me, peeled open his coveralls, and with a devilish grin, gestured at a bottle of whiskey saying, “ . . . and in case you’re in need of something a little more powerful.”  They were great!  They even presented me with a piece of the V2 which is now in my curio cabinet in my office.

The scene Martin (the director) and I did in the crematorium was really difficult for me.  When we were done shooting, Martin said, “I can tell you are angry.”  All I could manage was to mutter, “Fucking Nazis.”  It was such a moving experience.  I’d been to Dachau years ago and was similarly affected.

Mittelbau Dora is evidence that the savage in man is still there lurking just below the thin veneer of civilization we have created.  Hate, ignorance, and denial are all it takes to decline into horror.  While we were there bus loads of young school children were seeing the site.  That made me feel much more hopeful for the future.  Remember.

The launch site (Test Stand 7) of the first man made object in space. The V2 was originally designated the A4.

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